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Three Antiphons

author of text
Psalm 126:1, 2; Psalm 133:1; Isaiah 2:4

Tavener’s inspiration has been religious texts and the writings of religious mystics. For many years he was organist at a Presbyterian church, although his interest lay in Roman Catholicism. The year 1977 was a turning point for the composer when he converted to the Orthodox Church. He described this conversion as having the sensation of ‘coming home'. It is in the field of sacred music that Tavener has laid out his most significant musical ideas. 'Art', he says, 'cannot renew the sacred, but it can be a vehicle for the sacred.’

Characteristic of Tavener’s music is a tendency towards inner stillness through sustained chords, and a preoccupation with aspects of religious ritual—such as a solemn procession. The ecstatic nature of his music has inevitably led to comparisons with the music of Olivier Messiaen.

The Three Antiphons for unaccompanied choir were completed on 25 January 1995 in response to a commission by the World War II Commemorations Team and St Paul’s Cathedral. The work was first performed on 7 May that year at St Paul’s, on the occasion of the Service of Thanksgiving, Reconciliation and Hope to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. The composer has provided the following note with this work:

The texts of these Three Antiphons are taken from the Psalms and from Isaiah. The music should be performed soberly and with dignity, without any triumphalism. In the first, a small group of tenors and basses should be positioned at a distance from the main choir. In the last, which represents the Prophet's vision of 'the new Jerusalem' (something beyond our comprehension), a small group of sopranos and altos singing Alleluia represents angels. If possible, these singers should be placed in a high gallery so that their sound seems to come from the heavens.

from notes by William McVicker © 1996


The English Anthem, Vol. 6
CDA66826Archive Service


No 1: Antiphon I
Track 8 on CDA66826 [3'07] Archive Service
No 2: Antiphon II
Track 9 on CDA66826 [1'01] Archive Service
No 3: Antiphon III
Track 10 on CDA66826 [2'21] Archive Service

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